Editors Note: Missioner-in-training Beth Brown shares her reflections from her service site in Washington, DC, during her time of formation.
Our formation process with Franciscan Mission Service includes a half-day of service at one of Washington, DC’s many help centers. I said yes to serving at “A Gift of Hope,” a residence facility for elderly, sick, or disabled men and women who are experiencing homelessness. This former mansion and orphanage, originally founded in 1986, is now run by the Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
I want to share with you my impressions before starting my first day. I arrived a little early for Mass so I waited outside the chapel door, struck by what I was seeing in the entrance lobby. Lining one side of the hall are large cabinets displaying relics of this woman who labored on behalf of the poor for so many years. There are many objects, like a small leather square from her sandals and a piece of the linen habit she wore. Another cabinet preserves a wheelchair used by Mother Teresa when she visited this residence. These are known as second-class relics, items used or touched by a saint.
After Mass, one of the volunteers pointed out a small glass cabinet on the chapel wall. As I approached it, I could see a tiny reliquary bearing a drop of her blood. I have had the privilege of seeing other first-class relics before, usually a piece of bone, but this tiny dot of red moved me. I was deeply affected by seeing this actual drop – something that had coursed through her generous heart. Sealed in glass, the drop retained its red hue as if still within her. For me, the bright color brought her works back to life.
Mother Teresa lived as St. Francis of Assisi did, by setting examples of service, humility and poverty. This woman lived in my time, not some mist of antiquity. Her sacrifice was fresh, in the news, on the internet. Yet her work was not for attention or earthly gain, it was done purely for the love of God. I started to notice her quotes – “Do small things with great love”, “Peace begins with a smile”, “Intense love does not measure, it just gives.”
I started taking them to heart. Friends sometimes say to me, “I could never do what you do.” I say that I could never do what she did, but perhaps my small contribution helps just one soul at a time. It is done with love, and for the glory of God.
As a Catholic child, I frequently read stories of the lives of the saints. Their faith, courage, and love inspired me to dream of being a nun. While I did not reach that holy aspiration, I am full of joy to serve the Lord as a lay missioner.
One of many religion lessons I remember is that a relic of a saint is venerated, not adored. Only God is worthy of adoration. These relics are meant to inspire and comfort us as we run the earthly race set before us. Peace!